MATCHWINNER Marcus Stewart turned up the heat in an already white-hot promotion race when he admitted he had no soft spot for his former club Ipswich and says he hopes they lose all of their remaining fixtures.

The 32-year-old striker, who netted his ninth goal of the season at the Stadium of Light on Saturday - his first at home from open play since August - was the catalyst to Sunderland's victory against Sheffield United, and left the field of play five minutes from time to a deserved standing ovation. A similar response from the Portman Road crowd when he returns in April, however, remains doubtful after his latest comments.

Stewart spent two and a half happy years in East Anglia and scored 30 times in 73 appearances before former boss Peter Reid took him to Wearside in 2002 as part of a £10m double deal which also brought Tore Andre Flo from Rangers.

Despite three reasonably successful seasons with the Tractor Boys Stewart says there is no room for sentiment in the race for the title and is determined to gain automatic promotion for the Black Cats at his former club's expense if need be.

"I don't want them to win any games, even though they are my old club," confessed Stewart. "I want us to go up and get promoted, regardless if I played for them before. I earn my bread and butter for this club. But if that is not possible then they get promoted as champions and us go up second."

Stewart tasted both success and failure as a player in the play-offs and admitted he would rather avoid the promotion lottery this time if possible. But if it does go down to the wire he would prefer the sweet taste of promotion celebrated with Ipswich five years ago, to the bitter taste of last year's semi-final defeat to Crystal Palace.

"Going into the games we were on fire - like Crystal Palace were last year - and on the back of a magnificent run," said Stewart. "They Palace were bottom of the play-off league but they were flying at the time and felt they could go on and win it and that's what happened.

"It was the same with us at Ipswich. Hopefully we won't be involved in that situation and we'll be in the top two; that's our main aim."

The Bristol born forward certainly believes his side are good enough to win automatic promotion and says he would love another crack in Premiership against the best before he finally hangs up his boots.

He pinpointed April as the Black Cats make or break month, and with mouth-watering fixtures against Ipswich, Wigan, Reading and West Ham to come, it is hard to disagree with the in-form striker.

He said: "You have to believe you are the best team. At the moment we're the third best team because that's what the table says. Obviously we would like to be at the top of the league at the end of the season but we've got some very difficult games coming up. But I think our telling month will be April."

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